An interactive immersion experience, the Community Action Poverty Simulation, was held for Sandhills Community College faculty and staff on Friday, March 17. The event gave participants a glimpse into the structural barriers and some of the personal and emotional repercussions people in poverty face.
As a simulation, the objective of the experience was to shift the participant’s paradigm about poverty away from being seen as a personal failure and toward understanding poverty as a structural failure of society.
Eighty participants assumed the roles of 26 families facing poverty. Some families were newly unemployed, some were families where a spouse recently left, some were experiencing homelessness, and others were recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), either with or without additional earned income. Others were senior citizens receiving retirement pensions or grandparents raising grandchildren. The task of the “families” was to provide for necessities and maintain shelter during the course of the four 15-minute “weeks.”
The simulation was conducted in Hines Gymnasium with the families seated in groups in the center of the room. Around the perimeter were tables representing community resources and services for families. These services were a bank, super center, Community Action Agency, employer, utility company, pawn broker, grocery, social service agency, faith-based agency, payday/ title loan facility, mortgage company, school, community health center, public health caseworker, and a childcare center. Other college employees staffed the resource tables. There were also law enforcement officers and an illegal activity person.
Family participants and staffers of the services shared their feelings at the group debrief session. They talked about their experiences, what they learned about the lives of people in poverty, and ultimately generated ideas for applying the lessons to their personal and professional lives.